Monday, November 25, 2013

Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Social Change v. American Heritage Products case brief

Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Social Change v. American Heritage Products case brief summary
296 S.E.2d 697 (Ga. 1982)

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit submitted certified questions regarding the right of publicity to the court. The questions arose in an appeal filed by plaintiffs, an administratrix, corporation and non-profit corporation, that sought review of the federal court's partial denial of injunctive relief against defendant corporation that manufactured and sold plastic busts of decedent civil rights leader.

  • American Heritage Products marketed and sold a plastic image (a bust) of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to be used as an accessory for funerals. 
  • AHP had asked the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Social Change to work with AHP on the production and sale of the busts, however the Center refused. 
  • After the Center saw various advertisements for these busts, the Center filed for an injunction to force AHP to stop manufacturing and selling the busts, claiming that it violated Dr. King’s right of publicity.

Is an individual’s right to publicity inheritable, survivable and/or devisable?


  • The court held that the appropriation of another's name and likeness, whether the likeness was a photograph or sculpture, without consent and for the appropriator's financial gain constituted a tort under state law, regardless of whether the person subjected to the appropriation was a private citizen, entertainer, or a public figure who was not a public official. 
  • The court held that the right of publicity survived the death of its owner, and was inheritable and devisable. 
  • The court found that the measure of a public figure's damages for violation of his right of publicity was the value of the appropriation to the user. 
  • The court also found that the fact that decedent civil rights leader elected not to exploit his name and likeness during this lifetime did not give others the right to use his name and likeness after his death, and did not strip his family and estate of the right to prevent unauthorized exploitation of the right by others.

The court indicated the right of publicity was distinct from the right of privacy and survived the death of its owner, without any requirement that the owner commercially exploited the right before he died.

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